chapter  4
23 Pages

Rights and responsibility: Girls and boys who behave badly


The development of youth justice policy has been – at least over the last fifty years – at the mercy of political vicissitudes and anxieties. In the last ten years in particular, policy has suffered from being required to respond to a conflicting mix of political imperatives, ranging from a perceived need to be seen as accepting ‘No More Excuses’1 in relation to offending by children and young people, to the economic necessity of ‘selling’ preventative early intervention programmes as a good investment2 and diversion from expensive custody as effective alternatives,3 through pressure to employ measures designed to reduce the fear of crime and respond to nuisance behaviour in local communities. The current political importance of law and order policies in the context of the declining legitimacy of the criminal justice system has, however, meant that perceptions of community safety and public confidence in the youth justice system have often been higher priorities than either the rights or the welfare of children and young people who publicly behave badly. So, in the context of an apparently punitive public, the ‘talk’ on juvenile

crime and antisocial behaviour has been ‘tough’ and New Labour’s ‘Third Way’ ideology has emphasised that the individual must be held responsible for his or her offending even though socio-economic factors are acknowledged as causes of crime. The result has been that, despite a social inclusion policy agenda, the focus on the responsibility of children and young people who misbehave and commit offences in England, Wales and Northern Ireland now means that children as young as 10 can be held

1 Home Office, No More Excuses: A New Approach to Tackling Youth Crime in England and Wales. Cm 3809, London: The Stationery Office, 1997.